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Towson’s magical season hasn’t come to an end yet. The Tigers strolled through the 2019 Colonial Athletic Association Championship to claim the program’s second conference title and secure an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. They are the first team since 1996 to go undefeated in the regular season and win the postseason championship.
But let’s back up and give you the full rundown of how Towson (28-2, 16-0) took home the CAA title.
Elon and Delaware Score Quarterfinal Upsets
The last two teams to sneak into the six-team CAA Championship, No. 5 Elon and No. 6 Delaware, snagged surprise victories in the quarterfinals on Friday. Both matches went to five sets.
First, Elon took down No. 4 Northeastern, rebounding from a 25-12 defeat in the fourth set to win in extra points in the fifth (26-24, 23-25, 25-18, 12-25, 16-14). The victory gave Elon the opportunity to compete in its first CAA semifinals.
“We knew it was going to be a close match, and it was going to come down to closing out sets,” Elon head coach Mary Tendler said. “We did that today, even in the second set that we lost but finished really strong. I'm very proud of this team for the full TEAM effort they put together today. All 15 players made an impact.”
Northeastern’s Athena Ardila led the match with 19 kills and 17 digs, but Leah Daniel was Elon’s top scorer with 17.
After beating Hofstra on its home floor in the final match of the regular season, Delaware did it again, this time in the conference tournament. The Blue Hens came back from down 0-2 to win in five (23-25, 20-25, 28-26, 25-22, 15-13), with Maria Bellinger topping all players, scoring 21 kills, and adding 12 digs. Freshman setter Ezgi Basaranlar set new career-highs with 56 assists and 19 digs. Senior libero Andie Hanus, the recently crowned 2019 CAA Defensive Specialist of the Year, had 29 digs
“Every win you can get at this point of the season is fun,” Delaware head coach Sara Matthews said. “It’s do-or-die, it’s go time and I'm just so proud that the team stuck with it tonight after coming out a little flat and never stopped believing.”
Top Seeds Victorious in Semifinals
The Cinderella magic ended for Elon and Delaware in the semifinals, however, as No. 1 Towson defeated the Phoenix and No. 2 James Madison got past Delaware in four sets.
Towson dropped the first set to Elon, but quickly rebounded, holding its opponent to fewer than 20 points in each of the final three sets. The always-balanced Tiger offense led by setter Marissa Wonders saw four players reach double-digit kills: outside Emily Jarome (18), opposite Olivia Finckel (14), middle and 2019 CAA Rookie of the Year Lydia Wiers (12), and outside Annie Ertz (11).
Towson hit .319 as a team, holding Elon to a .234 clip. The top seed also held a slight advantage in aces (8-7) and blocks (9-7) and massively out-dug its opponent 77 to 57.
Blocking was the name of the game for James Madison as it defeated Delaware 25-16, 25-19, 24-26, 25-15 with a season-high 18 team stuffs. The win earned JMU a spot in the conference championship match for the fourth year in a row.
M’Kaela White had an especially good night. The senior middle blocker recorded 15 kills, hitting .517 and adding a season-high nine blocks.
“M'Kaela White was incredible—not only her performance, but the energy and leadership she brought was huge,” JMU head coach Lauren Steinbbrecher said. “Danielle Nathan had another strong performance against Delaware, taking some big-time swings for us and I thought Sarah Martin ran a great offense."
Nathan had 13 kills, hitting .357, an ace, five blocks (one solo), and two digs. Setter Martin quarterbacked the Dukes to a .358 team hitting percentage with 45 assists, scoring four kills of her own.
Bellinger, a senior outside hitter, once again led Delaware, this time tallying 29 kills. She finished her college career with 1,639 kills, good for second all-time at Delaware and ninth in conference history.
22 in a Row and a Title for Towson
Towson hasn’t lost since September 13 and a sweep of James Madison (25-23, 25-17, 25-18) in the CAA championship match on Sunday marked 22 victories in a row for the Tigers.
Although Towson had beaten James Madison twice already in 2019, the championship match marked the year’s first sweep of the Dukes for the Tigers.
Senior setter Marissa Wonders continued to rake in the awards, adding CAA tournament Most Outstanding Player to her 2019 CAA Player and Setter of the Year honors. Wonders secured her 15th double-double of the year in the championship match, collecting 35 assists and 13 digs.
James Madison once again did well on the blocking front, but despite 11 stuffs, Towson hit .235 to JMU’s .139. Finckel and Jarome once again led Towson, putting away 14 and 12 kills respectively.
Towson will now compete in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.